Friday, 30 May 2008

The Boneyard XXI Carnival, coming June 7th!


The Flying Trilobite will be playing host to The Boneyard Carnival on Saturday, June 7th!

I'm asking people to submit articles about fossils, palaeontology, and I'm also really hoping we could get a slew of palaeontology-related artwork submitted and featured! I won't limit it to that, so please submit articles about the science that inspires the art as well.

For myself, I'm planning to finish the Precambrian rabbit/trilobite puzzle I started on the Artwork Mondays, and I'll unveil it at the Carnival.

Although I'm thinking of some usual suspects when I say that, I'd love to see some art from some unusual suspects too! Never drawn or painted before? No problem! Let's have some fun! Submit that favourite childhood drawing of something related to the distant past: everyone's got a dinosaur drawing their parental unit hung onto, don't they? Don't be shy! I'm not here to judge, just have a good time.

In case you are unfamiliar with blog carnivals, they usually feature a theme (in this case all things paleo), and move around like a travelling carnival with each edition appearing on a different blog (in this case hosted by a guy who didn't draw trilobites correctly). Your job is to email me about a favourite article, or paleo-related artwork that you have featured on your own blog (to demonstrate your awesomeness), or that you have seen elsewhere online. The day the carnival goes up, you get to go to the host's blog and revel in the collection of brilliance.

The Boneyard XXI! Professional, amateur, or proud parent, let's see some paleo art in the blogosphere!

Email me, Glendon Mellow, at: theflyingtrilobite{at}gmail{dot}com

Thanks to Brian at Laelaps for allowing me to play carnival barker!
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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Artwork Monday: Mother Mars

In honour of the Phoenix lander's successful touchdown in the Martian Arctic last night, I thought I would share a painting done a number of years ago.

Mother Mars

This painting was inspired by the Martian meteorite, ALH84001 and the inscription is carved into the rock in the bottom left.

The figure represents a mythology that never-was, the personification of Mother Nature on the planet Mars, wasted and haunting.

After struggling with a "mermaid's purse" shark egg to represent the false hope of organisms on Mars, I eventually attended a lecture at the University of Toronto where the topic of discussion was the possible discovery of fossil remnants in a meteor that originated on Mars. I learned about the magnetite chains found in the meteor, and watched a video of the cute little microbes whipping this way and that, following a moving magnet. I replaced the shark egg with an enlarged, ruptured microbe immediately.

Until that lecture, this painting sat unfinished and abandoned for over a year, and I was sure I would paint over it. It's something I seldom do, but I really wasn't fond of it. The addition of the magnetite-bearing microbe made all the difference to me.

The face was a sort of riff on the infamous hill-face on Mars, later proved to be simply a low-res, shadowed coincidence. I felt the debunked image lent a certain poignancy to Mother Mars.

Mars is what we make it. Perhaps Phoenix will find signs of life in the Martian arctic? If not, it continues to be a planet of hope, and one we invest more myths, ideas and dreams in than any planet other than our own.

Here is one of Phoenix's of the Martian arctic:

(Photo from NASA site) Make sure to head over to the Phoenix site over the coming days, weeks and months for astounding findings. Also, check out the ever-entertaining Bad Astronomy blog for more news and commentary.

Cheers, to all involved with the Phoenix project!
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The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Artwork Mondays: Precambrian Rabbit

As noted on the last Artwork Monday, I am working on a new oil painting on a shale surface. The piece is a puzzle, inspired by the quote from the late biologist J.B.S. Haldane when asked what would disprove the fossil record of evolution:


"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian."

Painting on shale is not particularly difficult. Originally, I had completed some of the work on by using a clear acrylic gesso, and then simply painting in oil on top. Gesso, for the non-artsy folks reading my blog is a fancy fine art term for a primer. Real gesso is made from calcium carbonate and rabbit-skin glue. There are some purists who disdain using modern acrylic-based gesso and prefer to use the traditional method. Pshaw! I say, pshaw! Rabbit-skin glue tends to absorb and lose humidity to the air, which can cause flexing and cracking under the paint film. Acrylic polymers do not have this problem, unless foolishly watered-down. Three cheers for modern chemistry!

I don't use any toxic solvents in my work, as I think they are simply not worth the risk. Anyway, why use those when there are more and more nontoxic equivalents on the market? (Another cheer for the chemists!) I'm not sure what taltine or turpentine would do to the shale, but it doesn't matter with the technique I am using.

I tend to paint in thin layers of colour, not as many as the great Renaissance masters like Leonardo da Vinci, but perhaps about 3 to 6 layers on each piece. On some of my canvas pieces, such as Life With Diatoms and My Life With Trilobites, I have used thick-as-honey stand oil as a final surface, giving the pieces a glossy appearance, intuitively grasped as organic when viewed in person. Stand oil is simply linseed oil that had been thickened by heat. Flip a jar of it upside down and watch how slowly the bubble rises.

Once, when I tried to coat a quick sketch of a shale-painting in stand oil, it dried in a weird way, clumping in little contours and folds, almost completely obscuring the weird little face beneath.

When choosing colours for the fossil rabbit, I have to think forward to what the trilobites will look like, as well as make it match the subject matter. I considered making the rabbit fossils bright pink to illustrate their false position in the strata, show them to be impossible. However, I think a stark white will do the trick, since most fossils are not so clean and bony, the bones long since replaced by mineral content. And here we are so far:




I would definitely say this is right in the Ugly Phase, and I want to paint out the background with Payne's Grey s badly, but that will delay painting any trilobites. The colours here will allow me to make some interesting rock-like trilobites, hopefully more subtle and appealing to the eye as being the real-deal.

My apologies for the late post.
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The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Lungs + Blogs + Flying Trilobite accolades

After posting about my own experiences with my asthma and flying in airplanes, the conversation continued in other blogs.

Blue Collar Scientist produced an insightful and shocking post about asthma, it's links to suicidal thoughts, and school policies that lead to tragedy. Ensuing comments and posts over at Blue Collar Scientist's blog led to me garnering a weekly comment award when I assume Mr. Scientist hadn't had enough sleep after staring at nebulae for too long.

A similarity in maintaining our lungs was found between Zach of When Pigs Fly Returns and myself, in that both of us thank our wives for their support in maintaining our bronchioles. Zach has written a revealing post about living with cystic fibrosis. Go for the lungs, stay for the dragons. No really, keep scrolling down until you start finding this impressive artist's dragon sculptures.

Have an asthma or lung-related story? Give one of our posts a link, and continue the conversation.

Elsewhere, some splendid things were said about my art. I love being included as an "internet wonder", so thanks to Splendid Elles. This atheist and skeptic is kinda off the wall and has her own opinions. I like blogs that don't act as mouthpieces for other blogs.

My new shale puzzle-painting has caught the calcium-carbonate compound eye of eTrilobite, who thought it was one of the three best articles read this week - and I've barely started! High praise indeed from another accomplished paleoartist. Spend some time at eTrilobite, won't you? Walcott's Quarry is great fun, and you can shop for author-artist Trilobite's amazing paleo-themed clothing.

The Flying Trilobite is sometimes also popular in other languages. Nifty! Le soledad del excentrico has me on their blogroll. Also, I was added to the feast on The Neural Gourmet's blogroll. *beaming*

If this keeps up I will continue to become a better and better artist. We have to feed our over-inflated egos to produce our best work. *wink*
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The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Artwork Mondays: Untimely Rabbit

For this Artwork Monday, I thought I would start off in a different direction on an idea I've had on the back burner for a while. (Back burner? Who says that? Perhaps a more modern saying should be coined. Like, "I've had this marinating for a while," or, "I've had this painting waiting to be rolled in seaweed for a while." Ahem.)

I like to paint some of my Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossils on pieces of shale, as seen in my Page 3.14 SEED interview last year (shameless self-aggrandizement!). This painting will be a little different, and I hope lots of fun for the viewer, especially those who see it in person. (Sorry bloggy folks!)

When I was reading the excellent, brilliant, those-who-find-flaws-or-use-the-word-militant-obviously-didn't-read-it, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, for the first time, I was struck by a quote of the late biologist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane. When confronted by a creationist, asking what it would take to falsify Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Haldane replied, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian".

Okay, this photo might be a little hard to make out, but here's a sketch of a hare's skeleton on nine pieces of paper. I may put in an "imprint" to suggest long ears on the final paper. You see, I have these 9 beautiful shale drink coasters from Pier 1 Imports that will make a terrific shale puzzle.

"What!?" you may gasp, "has that Glendon-trilo-mellow-yellow guy lost his rigorous, scientific outlook?" Or you may say, "who? oh the Darwin-staircase guy, yeah what?"

No, silly. The creationist-configuration will prove to be false.

It's a puzzle. And if I piece it together this way...
...you can see there are numerous green trilobites sketched in. The shale pieces will have two configurations, the "false-rabbit" and the 'true-trilobite". I may emphasize the point by putting in some simple math that only works correctly the one way. Or I could paint the rabbit bright pink, but that may upset some people, since it is a blessed colour.

This piece I will likely dive right in and begin painting. I've used a clear, acrylic-based gesso to prime the shale pieces, and I'll start with the rascally rabbit.

While you're waiting for me to pointen my brushes, check out Heather Ward's birdies, drop by the Daily Mammal, or see Bond's scintillating Tsintaosaurus.
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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.
Book in the background of top photo is an excellent reference, Skeletons by Barbara Taylor, Firefly Books. The book in the bottom photo is the indispensable Fossils by C. Walker & D. Ward, Dorling Kindersly Books.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Flying & Asthma

The Flying Trilobite already receives a lot of pageviews due to a steady stream of people searching about being an asthmatic and flying (in an airplane, I presume). I thought it may be somewhat useful for me to therefore pen a post on the subject. The reason so many asthma-sufferers find this blog, I believe is because of the post I did of a drawing called, Asthma Incubus back in May of 2007.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, then welcome! Drop in for the asthma, stay for some paintings inspired by the awe of modern science. I am an artist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Please don't be frightened by the atheism. With atheism comes a healthy dose of skepticism, which you will need if you are suffering from asthma and don't know where to turn next. And anyway, the way I see it, when it comes to asthma relief, it just means instead of thanking god(s), I thank the fine scientists, pharmacists and chemists that have helped save more lives than prayer ever has.

Without skepticism someone may try to wave their hands over you or ask you to carry a small doll to cure your asthma, and while both could be entertaining, you and I both know it's hard to laugh when your lungs feel like they weigh 200 pounds and are made out of bags of rusty harmonicas.

So to begin: a caveat, a warning, a caution. I am an artist, not a medical respirologist. If you are looking for relief from your wheezy lungs, I strongly, mightily urge you to seek out a "Western" medically-trained respirologist and asthma clinic that keeps up on the latest advances in drugs to ease your lungs back into contributing members of your chest cavity. All I will share in this blog are anecdotes, individual stories about asthma, which is not how you should make a diagnosis! Medicines and remedies using double-blind, empirical and statistical trials are the ones to trust. Your respirologist will know which ones. I would also suggest checking out The Asthma Society of Canada for some up-to-date "'evidence-based', market-tested, " information on a regular basis.

Also to begin: some reassurance. I am a skeptic, and I will not try to sell you on the idea of water-pills, drinking urine, homeopathy, acupuncture, taking something just because it is "all-natural", or rearranging mythical chakras. If people seriously think they are helping you with this advice, I would strongly advise you to laugh, ask them to explain further, laugh some more, and do nothing they tell you to treat your asthma. If you are unsure of whether something someone suggests is pure nonsense or not, look for information that has piles of trustworthy studies behind it. To get you started, check out The Skeptic's Dictionary, particularly under "Alternative Medicine".

Oh, and get your children vaccinated too. It doesn't cause asthma, and will save their lives.

So, flying with asthma.

I have flown a number of times in my life so far, probably about 8 trips there and back again. As I said, I live in Toronto, and I have flown as far away as Aruba and Calgary, some 6 or 7 hours at a stretch. I have taken numerous shorter flights from Toronto to Montreal on a variety of airlines; Air Canada, Westjet and Porter, small planes and large ones.

My asthma has been diagnosed as "brittle", though that seemed to be a mistake; I have never fallen unconscious, even in my worst heart-pounding, suffocating moments. The most recent diagnosis was "moderate persistent asthma".

I haven't had any trouble flying with asthma. Whew! I know, all this preamble to find out you should be okay! Modern planes are pressurised so the air will not be thin as you fly up to 35'000 feet. A smaller plane, you may feel light-headed I guess. I have hiked in the Blue Mountains of Virginia before up to 4'000 feet, and I could still breathe and carry a 60 pound backpack.

Flying in a plane is exciting, and I am not jaded by the experience yet. So, sometimes I will need to take a puffer during the duration of the flight, but ask your doctor, or use your own experiences to see if this is necessary. For myself, I do not experience any sudden tightening of the chest, and I suspect I may take it in those moments larger as a psychological comfort. Perhaps the next time I fly I'll skip it if I can and see how it goes.

Most puffers are pressurised canisters, and there seem to be no negative effects on these in a plane. They do not explode or leak. Again, a pressurised cabin would give the canister a steady barometric pressure, and it will function as though you are on the ground. Take your medications in-flight with you in your carry-on luggage. Be comfortable, and relax. Get a window seat and enjoy the flight.

Currently, I take two medications to treat my asthma. One is preventative, and another for fast relief in moments of distress. A while ago, I switched away from a ventolin inhaler to Airomir, and I find I am sleeping better at night. I recommend it. (Ask your doctor!) My wife also informs me that I am not jerking my full body in my sleep anymore the way I used to once a night. There are a lot of options on the market, and you should work with your respirologist to see what works for you. A new medication, which I will not name, gave me some anxiety attacks when in combination with another puffer. My doc said it happens in a small samples of patients, about 5% of cases. So I switched.

I hope this has been helpful. Asthma is manageable, and sufferers have many options to help nowadays. If, however, I am wrong and there is some folklore I do not know about and people are finding this blog to learn about flapping their arms like Icarus and flying while suffering some asthmatic-like effects afterward, I have only one response.

"Umm."
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Monday, 5 May 2008

Artwork Mondays: reference & when not to use it

The revamp of my Dimetrodon-Sphinx concept from over a decade ago continues. The original drawing is below, and is part of a larger drawing seen here.

And below, is where I am so far.

To reach this stage, it was important to use a lot of reference. A part of this exercise was to see how much I may have improved. A lot of that improvement likely comes from using references, such as a model for the woman's body, and looking at other artists' representations of living dimetrodons for the back-half. As well, I used these two photos I took last summer when visiting the Royal Tyrrell Museum.












(Actually, I'm not sure that the one on the left in the left-hand photo is actually a dimetrodon; the head seems to be quite a different shape. A pelycosaur nonetheless. )

There is still some work to do. I thought I might be able to complete the drawing in time this week.

I struggled a lot with the hair. I tried tiaras, an Egyptian sphinx headdress, no hair, tight curls, messy hair whipping in the wind, and even the bob on the one in the original. Eventually I decided to go with slick wet hair, as I could be fun to paint this as a rainy scene.

The mouth and lips are way off, and will need some work, and I messed up the left hand. One of the ways many artists' check the progress of a composition or the realism if a piece, is to flip it:

This allows some mistakes to jump out, and gives the familiar pencil strokes a foreign eye, as a viewer will likely have for the first time they see it. Looking at the piece in the mirror is one way, and using Photoshop is another great way to try this technique. Remember though, that no face or body is perfectly symmetrical, not even Pac-Man's. (Look close, you'll see his left eye is 1 pixel closer to his nose than his right.) I think the Sphinx's hair could be more ropy and knotty.

Looking at the lone dimetrodon above, I can see there are about 24 of the long vertebra supporting the sail. My Sphinx's pretty back is not long enough to support quite that many, so here is a point where reference and I part company. Another is in the feet. When I was at the Royal Ontario Museum's Darwin exhibit recently, I was reminded of how fascinated I am by the irregular-looking toes of an iguana. And so, I abandoned the realism of a dimetrodon's no-doubt noble foot, in favour of the broken-looking toes of the green iguana. And to top it off, I didn't use a reference *gasp*.

This piece seems to evoke a night-time feel to me, and so I began roughing in some rocky shapes in the background, and darkening the sail to illustrate the translucency and rock silhouettes showing through. Last week, I spoke about the possibilities of camouflage. Now, I think any colouration choices would have to wait for me to paint the piece.

Will I add colour? It's at the right stage for it. A scan and print onto canvas-paper and I could apply my oils. There's some great tips on colouring and texturing using Photoshop in ImagineFX, a magazine I just picked up a couple of weeks ago. However I've spent longer on this drawing than I thought I would over the last few Artwork Mondays. Next week, it may be time to move onto something new.
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The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Conference

There's a slew of gorgeous posters created by the talented members of The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators for the upcoming conference in July. Although I have not attended one of these conferences yet, I think the results of these lush, gorgeous and scientifically accurate artists speak for themselves.

If you are a new artist, up-and-coming, or established and need of some new techniques, get yourself to Ithaca and learn from these modern masters.

I often wonder if in a hundred years' time the art world will look back on pieces like these and marvel at their (sometimes) unrecognised value in the face of post-modernist navel-gazing. Their artwork is all the more relevant to anyone amazed by the vanishing biodiversity on our planet.

In particular, check out the work by Heather Ward (the coral reef begins!), Emily Damstra, Gina Mikel, Barry MacKay, and...aw, heck, prepare yourself for beauty and strangeness that only the real world can deliver by going to the Guild's image bank, or check out the links in my blogroll. Grab a coffee and croissant, and spend an hour this weekend marvelling.

And be responsible folks: these images are under copyright, and these folks earn their bread producing images to help scientists, medical professionals, teachers and students understand the world better. Be sure to contact artists about creating illustrations for use before cribbing them off the net!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Look over there!

Considering the Dimtrodon-Sphinx subject of my inaugural Artwork Mondays series, I had to share this.

Artist Zachary Miller is throwing out one of life's biggest "why?" questions, that only science, and not religion can answer: Why did some organisms develop sails? Head on over to When Pigs Fly Returns and throw in your speculative 2 cents.

While you're there, make sure to check out Zach's magnificent dragon sculptures and keen scientific descriptions, as well as his reconstructed tyrannosaur skull!
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The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.
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